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Angelena Boden

Angelena Boden

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Crisis can bring us together

I hear people asking the big question: ‘When will the craziness end?’  I assume they mean the murder, mayhem and extremist behaviour we’ve been witnessing for the past year and more.  It’s interesting though how a few of these conversations seem to be within the context of self. Here’s what I mean.

I’ve cancelled my holiday to Turkey this year (and it’s all their fault!).  I wonder if my grandparents said, ‘we planned to visit Auntie Flo but her house has been bombed and it’s not fair.

My understanding is that the war and subsequent major conflicts have brought people and communities together, sharing  what they had, comforting those in despair and working in a spirit of love, hope and co-operation.

There will always be a selfishness and a survival of the fittest when disaster strikes but in my experience it’s rivalled by the kindness of strangers. People check on their neighbours and help the physically less able with shopping or cooking and provide a supporting shoulder for the vulnerable. I remember when it was commonplace to take hot meals round to the recently bereaved as a way of showing empathy. Food is a uniting factor when times are tough.

New bonds are forged in times of crisis. People talk to each other face to face to share their fears and feel a sense of solidarity that’s not there when all is right with the world.  Yes, there will be people who take advantage of such situations by escalating criminal activity and trying to capitalise on the misfortune of others but watching how individuals have risked their lives to help survivors of earthquakes, tsunamis and war should give us hope that the intrinsic nature of people is altruistic and not selfish. 

We don’t have to look overseas to ceaseless acts of kindness when disaster strikes. The floods in Cumbria in late 2015 brought out helpers from all over northern England whatever their nationality or religion. Even if we can’t physically clear homes of filthy water and damaged possessions, we can offer a cup of tea or even a few moments of comfort.

Working with the homeless has shown me that it’s sharing our time and showing our care that has more impact than throwing a few coins into a plastic cup. Creating a bond even for a short time is about making a human to human connection, something most of us need when the world feels like a frightening place as it does right now.

We look on helplessly as more people around the world are murdered by whatever means at their disposal and belief systems however twisted and we wonder what we can do. We light candles, create hashtags, lay flowers in the hope it might help. Even though this small act of solidarity has been criticised by mean spirited commentators, it shows that in our helplessness, we are joining together against acts of evil, there’s nothing we can do to stem the tide of hatred and terror.

But there is something we can do. We can stop the keyboard warrior behaviour which doesn’t help heal the hatred and divisions we see in society. If we want real change then we need to be part of the solution and not add to the problem.

 Let’s show a bit of blitz spirit and help just one person in need of company, conversation and comfort. It might make us feel a little bit more in control in these extraordinary times.

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GRIT - not a new idea

GRIT – not such a new idea.

 All three of my school prizes were for Grit and Determination. Even back in the sixties, this was seen as a quality to be proud of, but I saw it as an ‘also ran’ prize. I wanted recognition for my skill in French or English Language.  Nowadays, having ‘grit’ is a promoted as a positive trait based on passion and perseverance with schools being offered awards for helping young people to develop these qualities so they can leave school more rounded and equipped to deal with life’s inevitable knocks. There’s a certain commercialisation about it.

 I grew up at a time where central heating was not common place – coal fires provided heating in our home – and frost patterns on the bedroom windows greeted us in the mornings. I remember a mad dash to get dressed for school, sometimes pulling on clothes under the bedding during the Great Freeze of 1963. It made me tough.

Baths were limited to a few inches of water twice a week but we were lucky as many homes in the 1960’s still didn’t  have bathrooms. A tin bath was dragged in front of the fire and filled with water from the kettle.  Chicken was a Sunday treat with the rest of the week’s main meals made up of cheap cuts of meat, potatoes and plenty of vegetables. Most women baked, sewed, knitted and mended, stretching the weekly housekeeping to the best of their ability. I don’t remember going hungry or without school uniform but I do remember being incredibly cold and miserable in our solid walled bungalow.

We didn’t think of it as hardship as my father was always in work and my mother at home. The message I received was ‘Cash only and hard work brings rewards.’

My early training in grit and determination got me through and out of a controlling relationship, helped me build a business and become fiercely independent, survive a breakdown and help others to do the same. It helped develop a strength of character that helped me pursue goals without giving up when times got tough but more importantly to keep pushing through physical and emotional pain without complaining or blaming.

Books, training courses, workshops and presentations on Grit and Resilience seem to be ubiquitous these days and I wonder if it is something that can be taught in a theoretical framework.

 For me, it was something that developed out of necessity although having a strong personality helped. It’s one thing to become hardened to life’s knocks and shocks and blunder through life in a state of numbed disassociation but can we really develop tenacity and stoicism as an applied skill? 

Grit is about stickability and rigor.  We didn’t talk about goals or passion.  We talk about ‘gritty resolve’ to achieve something and trusting in our own ability. It’s about not relying on others to solve problems but figuring it out for ourselves. Sink or swim.

In 2012, the concept of ‘grit’ became more prominent thanks to Paul Tough’s book, ‘How children succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.’

My Dad would probably be rolling his eyes at all this analysing and labelling of what we took on as a matter of course. I can hear him saying, ‘ You get up and get on with it. What’s to talk about?’ 

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WORDS HURT

WORDS HURT

If there’s one word I am heartily sick of hearing it’s Brexit. Even the sound of it sets my fillings rattling.  I don’t stand in either camp as I have this unhelpful knack of being able to see things from both sides but as this is not a political commentary,  I’m not engaging in that debate. Plenty of people, much smarter than I, have done the demolition work on the result. As a believer of accept and move on, my eye is on the pile of poo people have been slinging across the divide over the past week and it’s beginning to stink.

I’m not going to describe myself as a specialist but I have spent over thirty years observing and studying behaviour in order to help individuals, couples and organisations resolve conflict. Behaviourists can offer all sorts of theories as to why we do what we do and mediators can use proven methods to encourage compromise and reach win-win solutions. As a trainer I’ve used tried and tested methods to help resolve customer disputes, friction between colleagues and all-out war within families. 

We think we can hurl rocks of vicious and abusive language at people who don’t share our views and cry, ‘you’re too sensitive’ or trot out the ‘sticks and stones’ adage to prove that it’s their problem. No. It’s ours.

Words hurt. They can cut so deeply and become entrenched in the mind’s pathways that some people can tip over into depression and worse.  We’ve seen the effect that overt bigotry has had on individuals and groups who are going about their everyday business. We’ve watched with open mouths the insults spewed out by both sides of the political divide, burning with acrimony and blame. Screaming ‘it’s democracy, get over it on comment sections of serious politic debate cuts no ice in the end. It gets boring.

When we start to accuse professors and people who have spent their life’s work studying economics, politics and social behaviour of being incompetent and resorting to four letter words to express rage, powerlessness and frustration we need to heed the words of Robbie Burns. In paraphrase he said, ‘the greatest gift we have is to see ourselves as others see us,’ and the picture isn’t always pretty. *

No matter how deep and raw emotions might be, we are civilised enough to express our viewpoints in a calm, rational and above all caring manner. We don’t have to agree with another’s perspective on a situation but we do have a choice as to how we debate, argue, disagree. Understanding behaviour as everything we do and everything we say and accepting that it has an impact on those on the receiving end, even if they put up a protest, is the start of healthy communication and moving things forward.

What right to I have to insult, criticise, blame or spew hatred at another?  If I come across somebody who is negative and in a state of permanent rage I talk to them. Calmly, softly, kindly. It’s surprising how quickly the emotion dies down and they are willing to tell you their story. Then it’s down to you and me to listen and try to understand.

*To A Louse – Robbie Burns.

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!

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Sense of Self

A sense of self

Until I hit sixty this year I hadn’t given much thought to who I am. Most of my time was spent in explaining what I do and how I do it but nobody has ever really asked me the question, ‘Who are you?’  I suspect it verges on being too personal and intrusive and leaves us floundering for an answer.

Here’s a little exercise for you. We know about the elevator/lift pitch when we’re trying to sell an idea or ourselves for a job, but try it in answer to the question, ‘Who are you?’ Switch it round and ask, ‘Who am I?’  You have 1 minute!

We can claim to be many things; kind, tolerant, helpful or grumpy, impatient, clever, but isn’t this just another list of labels and does it answer the question, ‘Who am I?’ Maybe in part.

I was asked this question recently and my mouth opened and shut like a goldfish as I struggled to find something to say that didn’t sound boastful or in my case self-deprecating. In the end I said, ‘I don’t really know.’ The truth is I lost myself somewhere along the way by way of too many mergers with the identity of others.

 Like anyone who has reached a milestone age, I’ve gone through so many transitions – sometimes I feel like a caterpillar with one leg still stuck in the pupa – that any sense of identity has become watered down. Many women talk about being invisible after a certain age. Often it’s mid-life that brings the crisis leading to the question of Who am I? In counselling we find ourselves being asked the question, ‘Well who do you want to be? We sit staring at the pattern on the carpet as we try to translate the question into something meaningful. We then reply in a small voice,’ I don’t really know.’

These days, I hear a lot of talk about being ‘authentic’ which has become another bit of meaningless jargon.

 Many people live fictional lives which they post on social media, hating their real selves in some cases. Being authentic means digging deep into your core and finding the rich talents and qualities that have been buried because someone else has written your script and you’re reading the words which at some deep level doesn’t resonate with you. Whatever is unique about you has been overlaid with opinion, prejudice, media exhortations about who and what you should be to become acceptable. This might appeal to the ego but it puts the real self in a permanent shadow.  Who has the right to judge your uniqueness and say it’s not good enough? Your worst enemy, though, is often yourself.  

It’s easier to fulfil the roles of parent, child, sister, colleague, fund raiser or whatever category you fall into because it means you don’t have to answer the question about you. It means you don’t have to think and that in turn means you live with your fictional self and a hole in your soul – a feeling of incompleteness.

Why put your faith in someone else to write your script when you deserve to write it for yourself.

There’s a great quote which sticks with me: Worry about your character and not your reputation. Your character is who you are and your reputation is only what people think of you.

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